Is it dangerous to play with FIRE and ICE for retirement? If so, what’s your retirement path?

I read a thought provoking article the other day titled “Retire Early? Work Forever? Both Are Wildly Unrealistic” by Sarah Green Carmichael. The article touches on the recent concept of FIRE (financial independence, retire early) and the other end of the spectrum with people who plan to work forever. In summary, the author quotes Teresa Ghildarducci, author of How to Retire with Enough Money, saying “Both of those extremes are an engagement in fantasy and avoidance,”.

So what’s a person to do? Take charge? Give up? Take some concepts from each? Find the space between? Be confused?

FIRE – Financial Independence, Retire Early

This has become a “movement” with many blogs and websites dedicated to all sorts of matters around the concept. In fact, I really enjoy seeing the broad spectrum of approaches and ideas. By the way, you can learn a lot from taking time to read through some of these websites.

Most FIRE bloggers happen to be Millennials. Many share their personal journeys about how they came to embrace the concept and the practical steps they are taking to make it happen. Others talk about the lives they are leading or planning to lead in retirement. As examples, they often they include topics on:

  • Nifty “hacks” on travelling for less/free and other lifestyle savings.
  • Discussion of their new living arrangements for frugality, which often goes hand in glove with FIRE.
  • Financial planning for proof of concept on how they will make money last for their lifestyle.
  • Investing tips for making their investments grow for the long run.

One of the iconic FIRE bloggers is Mr. Money Mustache. Ironically, he happens to live an hour from Denver. When I first stumbled onto his website years ago, I binged on his blogs reading from the first forward. He shares many great tips and is a wealth of ideas that others can adopt.

Will the FIRE Math Work?

Despite the energy of the growing group, Ghildarducci’s assessment of FIRE participants: “For most people to quit work for 40 or 50 years, it’s just not a plan that can be sustained for anybody, except for people on TV.…The math won’t work.”

Nonetheless of her comments, there’s a lot to learn from the FIRE movement. Innovative ideas, different concepts of a full life, and gumption to go for their dreams.

ICE – I’m Continuously Employed

In contrast to FIRE is the other side of the spectrum with people who plan to work forever. Pointedly, until they drop over at their work space. I’m calling that group “ICE” for I’m Continuously Employed. (Any other ideas on fitting acronyms?) While I haven’t searched hard for blogs and websites, I’m going to bet they are few and far between. As you can imagine, the concept of working forever is not something people likely get overly excited about enough to go bragging to their friends, family, and the world.

Yes, there are people who truly enjoy their work and keep at it for the joy and fulfillment gained. Another, bigger part of this ICE group, is what Ghildarducci observes as “people who are engaged in what’s called cognitive dissonance. They know they don’t have enough money, and so they engage in another kind of fantasy, which is, “I can work until I die. My employer will want me.””

Perhaps these statistics provide some reasons for this phenomenon.

  • 48% of households in America headed by individuals at least age 55 have no retirement savings. Source: Government Accountability Office
  • 23% of working Americans save nothing from their monthly income for their future retirement. Source: First National Bank of Omaha 2019 Savings Survey

Cognitive Dissonance?

Indeed, what the heck is cognitive dissonance? According to, cognitive dissonancerefers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. This produces a feeling of mental discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance“.

Basically in this retirement planning case that translates to I will work forever (behavior) because I don’t have the money to retire (cognition). It doesn’t feel like a position of power or taking charge. In fact, there’s very likely a whole bunch of emotional pain that comes with this position. On the other hand, once the pain is so great, awareness and consciousness kick into the equation. The first step to change. Eventually, that visibility can become the invitation to take a tough look at reality and make any difficult, potentially painful decisions sooner than later for a different future outcome.

While not the high energy of FIRE, there’s a lot to realistically assess about the concept of working forever. For example, can I sustain my mental and physical health for the work environment? Will employers continue to appreciate the value I bring to the job? What are the realistic job types and pay scale that would be available? Will I get distracted by my friends who are retired or want to spend more time with family? Is this really the way I want things to go? Consequently, much to contemplate!

Your Retirement Path – The Space Between?

Somewhere between FIRE and ICE is the space between. Is that your retirement path? Where you are taking charge of your financial future and balancing your short term lifestyle with your long term goals. A place where you progress consistently to your long term goals.  The happy medium where you spend to your values and handle the unseen financial hits that occur from time to time.

Steps Forward on Your Retirement Path

What's your retirement path? Path through the woodsAs I mentioned before, there are many good ideas out there in the FIRE community. In fact, far too much to cover in one spot other than to invite you to explore some of the blogs out there. Truthfully, I like the energy and excitement around FIRE. It’s the carrot to the stick of the blog scarce “community” of ICE. Not a lot to shout about here for the most part. Nonetheless valuable lessons/reminders to be learned for steering away from that path.

What can you do to take charge and guide your retirement path to the space between? I like the guardrails presented in this article around FIRE and ICE. There’s much to learn about the edges for shaping your path, your journey. If you are going to lean one way versus the other, consider leaning into the FIRE and the wealth of ideas and varied approaches offered. There are good nuggets awaiting.

In addition, take care of the fundamentals. Things like:

Community Conversation Questions:

Please share some of your thoughts, stories, and perspectives around your retirement path.

  • What’s been your approach to date?
  • What are your “go to” resources for education on retirement planning? Blogs, books, professionals, friends/family, other?
  • How have you incorporated some of the concepts/ideas/tips that you’ve learned into your approach?
  • Where do you think the FIRE community ends up in 10-20 years?

I help people like you who are living real lives with real financial challenges to breakthrough to new possibilities for their financial health.

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Doug Drenckpohl